|Enki moored at the BYC at the Pacific entrance to the canal|
In the evening, from the mooring field of the Balboa Yacht Club, we watch the bead of light streaming across the Bridge of the Americas. Panama City is notorious for its heavy traffic. Upstream from the bridge are the Miraflores locks of the Panama Canal. We've got them behind us. What a good transit it was.
|On the Caribbean side, our first advisor Rod (in red tee-shirt) steps aboard|
|Our two "nesting" companions (above and below)|
|James and Doreen get the lines ready to raft up|
|Rod's day job is officer on the tugs - yacht advisory work is done on days off|
|The Gatun locks - pulling up the lines from the top of the walls|
|The lock is nearly full ....below, it's full|
On the horizon to the south is another dense necklace of lights. Those are the ships mulling about, waiting to transit the canal from the Pacific. Day and night, they slip past us with their towers of freight, the Panamax and RORO monsters and all shapes and sizes of ship down the scale. Panama funnels the world's shipping. There's more than enough of that to keep the canal open 24 hours. But in between the ships, the Panama canal schedulers must find slots for small boats like ours. Our second advisor (each yacht must have an advisor on board) told us the Panama Canal Authority would much rather yachts went "the other way" i.e. around Cape Horn. Whatever toll a yacht is charged to transit, it never covers costs apparently.
|The shipping lane next to the mooring field (and below)|
Now that we've been here in Balboa a few days - we are late leaving because of a couple of technical problems - I almost wish we could do the canal all over again. I would see more. I would not be as nervous.
We transited in two parts. For the first part (we left the Flats anchorage ahead of schedule, at around 1630), we were rafted up with two smaller yachts, with Enki in the centre, her engine powering the "nest" through the Gatun locks. The lack of preparedness of the other two yachts, neither of which were in particularly good condition, shocked and rattled us. We had a strong team - the unflappable James and Delvis, experienced line handlers, as well as Doreen and Mike, both good mariners. The other yachts made a much less confident showing with several "line handlers" who didn't seem to know one end of a boat from the other. Backpackers? It happens.
There was serious doubt about the forward cleat on one of the smaller boats. Given an ultimatum from his advisor - fix it, or stop here - the captain sent a capable girl with a tool kit into the anchor locker. The cleat was pronounced acceptable, but a line was run from Enki's forward cleat to the lock wall, just in case.
Alex did the driving, while the other two boats kept their engines running. He was cool, calm and collected (or at least, that was the impression). Michael was everywhere at once. Someone will have to tie that man to the wheel when St Leger transits, Doreen said.
|Michael and Doreen, team St Leger|
|Moored on the Gatun Lake (two NZ-flagged yachts)|
Going through the Miraflores locks we were rafted up to only one other boat, with a big New Zealand-flagged ketch ahead of us. Perhaps going downhill is always easier, or perhaps we had learned the ropes. It seemed an easier day.
The pictures below tell the rest of the story.
|Michael checks the mooring|
|Early on the second day, the pilot boat returns with new advisors|
|Crossing Gatun Lake|
|An old canal lighthouse|
|Traffic in the Galliard Cut|
|Looking back to the second Miraflores lock|
|The last downhill lock at Miraflores|
|A cleaner nips across the lock gates as they close|
|Enki passes beneath the observation platform at Miraflores|
|The water is halfway out....then we're out into the Pacific (below)|
|A Panamax comes into the canal as we exit|
|Panama City's needly skyline|
|View from San Felipe, the old district|
You can walk around most parts of Panama apparently, but not for long because of the heat, and not everywhere because of the bandidos. It's safe to stroll around the old city of Panama (re-sited in 1673 after Henry Morgan, the pirate, razed the original Panama to the ground in 1671), though its restoration seems to be a stop-start affair. At its back is a neighbourhood heavy with police "presence".
|Restoration in the old part of Panama (and below)|
|The Canal Museum - for Spanish speakers|
|Lunch - tasted a lot better than he looked|
We'll be on our way as soon as possible. Our timetable is Fedex's at the moment. That pesky adaptor we need is coming from New Hampshire.